My job requires that I eat out a lot. Further, it behooves me to lunch with movers and shakers in the local dining scene, which amounts to chefs, restaurateurs, wine brokers, foodies, bloggers and local producers.
So, I do a lot of lunch coordinating. Some places inspire more conviction than others. These days, the fastest way to get a group of foodies, chefs, restaurateurs and wine brokers in lock step is to say, in order: Szechuan Bistro.
That's because Szechuan Bistro, 1010 W Memorial Road, is among the best Asian restaurants in Oklahoma City. If you haven't been there yet, I thank you for making it easier to find a table at this charming neighborhood eatery in far north Oklahoma City.
That said, I've kept this gem a secret for too long. Selfishly, I've resisted writing a story about Szechuan Bistro, concocting all sorts of reasons why when the truth lay in my subconscious: I wanted to keep it all to myself.
I mentioned the place in a column last month as the standard-bearer for fine Asian fare outside the Asian District, and I stand by the statement. Szechuan Bistro isn't necessarily doing anything no else is doing. Owners Yuan Ren Chen, 36, and his wife, Xiu Mie, 35, are simply doing things right.
Both of Chinese heritage and growing up in restaurant-running families, these two know how to operate a restaurant and have been doing it long enough to recognize the rising demand of traditional Chinese cuisine. At Szechuan Bistro, guests can choose dishes from two menus: one with the aforementioned authentic offerings and one with the Anglicized dishes born in Chinese strongholds such as New York City and San Francisco.
A trip to Houston about a decade ago convinced Yuan Ren, who also goes by Leo, that authentic Chinese food was viable in Oklahoma City. The success of authentic Vietnamese and Chinese dishes that have gradually found their way to Oklahoma City menus at Chow's, et al., didn't hurt.
Fresh and flavorful
The tenet that elevates Szechuan to the top of Oklahoma City's Asian eateries is use of fresh ingredients.
Xiu Mie, who also goes by Sophia, said they use fresh, whole ingredients for every dish.
That explains why at 10 a.m., the large kitchen within an old Burger King by way of Ricky's Mexican Cafe is abuzz with activity. At least a dozen cooks in white file in, out and around the cooking space as if they're late for the subway but know all the shortcuts how to get there on time.
A half-dozen industrial-sized woks are revved and ready, with one wok at the end of the line big enough to bathe a baby elephant. As 11 a.m. nears, the frenetic pace rises, but there is no wasted motion.
When orders start to come in, the kitchen turns into a ballet of flashing blades, ready flame and scattershot sizzle. Then the bell rings at the expo counter, signaling the arrival of pristine and camera-ready dishes of Kung Pao Chicken, Mango Chicken with Garlic Sauce, Jumbo Szechuan Spicy Shrimp, Crispy Whole Flounder in Sweet and Sour Sauce, Spicy Ox Tongue and Tripe and Hot and Spicy Sliced Fish in Clay Pot.